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Where is our Day of Rage?

March 31st, 2011

Ohioans gathered outside the statehouse to rally against senate bill 5 on March 29 in Columbus, Ohio. The bill would strip public employees of collective bargaining rights. (AP)

This is my 43rd and final column for The Carroll News. Next week, the World News section will be in the hands of Michael Reiser, and I’m confident that he’ll do an outstanding job.

At the same time, however, I’m reluctant to give up the reins just yet.

This country has some rough days ahead of it. Youth unemployment was the ticking time bomb that sparked the protests in the Middle East and toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, where youth unemployment rates were 30 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

However, youth unemployment is also a severe problem in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official unemployment rate for workers ages 16 to 24 is 21 percent, and some two million college graduates are unemployed.

But could a developed and democratic country like the United States experience the same type of unrest as the authoritarian governments of the Middle East?

Absolutely yes, just ask Great Britain. Over the weekend, some 250,000 Britons took to the streets in London to protest deep spending cuts in health care, education and other social programs – the same kind of cuts that are being debated and made at the federal and state levels in this country.

In addition to these cuts, the rights of middle class workers – including teachers, university professors, firefighters, police officers and nurses – are coming under attack in states like Wisconsin and Ohio.

Meanwhile, the richest one percent of Americans own almost a quarter of the nation’s wealth. The health insurance industry is making billions off our illnesses. Oil companies are making billions with disregard to the environment. And the financial sector, which was at the heart of the global economic crisis, is once again experiencing record-breaking profits.

So why haven’t U.S. students organized massive protests like those in the UK and Middle East? The answer is, they have – but not with the organization and scale of those in other countries … yet.

However, the federal government has so far been unable to agree on a budget, with Republicans pushing for deeper cuts than Obama and the Democrats will allow. But if they can’t compromise on a budget by April 8, the government will effectively shutdown.

If that happens – or if the Democrats agree to deeper cuts that further affect the middle class – it might be just enough to spark the “Day of Rage” that so many other countries in the Middle East and Europe have experienced.

But perhaps that is exactly what this country needs to get it back on track, and to remind the country’s political leaders that it’s the middle class that is the heart and soul of this nation.